This week, Brett and I celebrated thirteen years of marriage. In keeping with life’s family demands right now, we scratched plans to go out and settled for a night at home with takeout that turned out to be sadly mediocre. I fell asleep at ten, he stayed up until midnight. Happy Anniversary…and they lived happily ever after.
Thirteen years ago when we gripped each other’s hands (seriously, that hand grip!) and proudly marched out of that chapel a married couple, we were starry-eyed dreamers, committed to working out the kinks of a blended family, excited by the idea of adding more kids, lost in a sea of love. Our wedding was magic–everyone we love gathered around us with such electric excitement for Us–Good God, I thought our love could fuel the world that night. When “Love Shack” played at our reception, Brett ripped off half his suit and danced like they were passing out awards for enthusiasm (a rarity, I tell you). Enthusiasm–that’s what we had, for each other and all the possibilities for our family.
That family is what we’ve focused on for the past thirteen years, and we’ve done good. Sure, there have been hiccups–it gets tricky with blended families–but I’m proud of the way we’ve navigated raising kids together. Lately though, I’m more proud of us–just the two of us–and how we’ve shifted some of the focus away from “Family’s all that matters!” and “It’s for the kids!” back to where it all began.
Marriage is hard to begin with, but when you add the inevitable stress of raising a family–busy schedules, annoying habits, bills, home improvements, jobs, the way we change over the years and the stories we tell ourselves about each other and those changes–“hard” doesn’t begin to describe what it really takes to stay connected. Marriage enthusiasm is one of the most vulnerable of all our commodities–and yet the easiest target for erosion. Neglect. Death by starvation. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a few times over the past five years that we have changed too much as people and that our marriage was held together more by the kids and our love for our family than our commitment to each other. Until we stopped telling ourselves “this is just the way it is” and fought for more.
This year we started marriage therapy for the first time, not because we were in trouble–but because I knew that if we didn’t commit to trying some new things now and learning new ways we could support each other, we could be in trouble years from now when the kids aren’t the center of our focus. I think marriage therapy still has so many negative connotations as if it’s a sign that couples are on the brink of divorce when really, the healthiest marriages I know commit to regular or at least “I’ll take a top-off on my coffee to warm it up” therapy. Therapy is much like going to the gym–commit to consistent exercise earlier so that you don’t wake up one day, out of breath and out of shape, wishing you would have paid more attention to your body earlier.
The verdict on therapy? We absolutely love it. It’s not a miracle worker–you still have to do the work yourself–but, for us, it’s recalibrated our relationship and restored some clear goals for our connection that had gotten murky over the years.
A few things we’ve noted that we love about therapy:
It’s in the calendar. Once a week, we sit next to each other on a couch and talk about us…really talk. And once a week, we walk out of that office holding hands, more connected and grateful for each other. It’s hard to find an hour of intimacy in our daily schedule; and even on a date night, talking deep about our relationship and what we need from each other isn’t exactly either of our idea of a fun night. Making time for it with therapy has created intimacy in a way neither of us expected. And then there’s less pressure during the week to approach intimidating conversations because we know we have a space for them.
The fact that we’re there every week–and like to be there–is a huge statement in itself to each other and our family. We are committed to being the best we can be. That’s our anthem. We can’t fall back on stories of “You don’t care” or “You’re not trying.” Knowing that we are doing real work to make our marriage as good as it can be is motivating and assuring. An athlete who is training for a marathon isn’t plagued with “I wish I was doing more to move my body” thoughts because they’re doing it!
Third Party Prompts
When there’s a kind, trained professional initiating conversation, we both come in open and willing rather than approaching a subject in the heat of the moment after a trigger. There’s no nagging, no intimidating “Can we talk?”, no annoyed “You’re bringing this up again?”, no resentment, no avoiding a conversation, no getting no where. The only purpose behind everything we talk about is understanding each other better, communicating better and being the best we can be. I’m a talker, Brett isn’t, and our therapist knows how to bridge that gap beautifully without having to have me be the “starter” for every conversation. The practice of talking more in therapy is helping us do it naturally at home too!
Relearning a Language
When we were first dating, we did the whole crash course in learning about each other’s pasts–our upbringings, our stories, etc. So much of who we are today is because of our past, and yet we don’t really talk about that anymore. Digging back into the stories of who we are and why has been like relearning a language we both forgot. There’s so much more patience and understanding for each other when we make room to talk about the whole of who we are–not to mention appreciation for the ways we are different–something that has felt polarizing in the past. Our differences are often our glue.
Perhaps my favorite thing about therapy is the clear accountability for both of us. We have homework every week, and every week starts by talking about what that homework looked like and how we are feeling about it. Instead of loose “let’s do better at this” promises, therapy helps us break things down into specific measurable goals–some of them as simple as committing to hugging or kissing every time Brett departs for work and every time he walks back in the door at the end of the day. Some homework starts with, “This might feel awkward, but that’s okay…” The accountability part of therapy has been so productive for us, and it’s amazing how quickly an awkward assignment becomes a natural part of our routine.
If anything, therapy has been really fun for us–something new to explore. It helps that we have a great therapist, recommended from a very trusted friend and psychologist. And committing to it definitely counts as one of those responsibilities that makes me feel like a bonafide grown-up–like buying a vacuum or walking into our accountant’s office to sign papers. Adults don’t wait for things to happen. They make them happen.
Celebrating 13 years, so happy and grateful to be with someone I love, the calm yin to my over-the-top yang.